24 May 2010

Grantees on the Front Lines, Saving the Gulf

With news today of another delay in attempts to cap the leak that has spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the last 30 plus days, it’s clear that the impact of this ecological disaster will be with us for years – if not generations – to come. It’s one thing to be watching underwater images of the murky, toxic fluid gushing forth on TV; it’s another thing entirely to see that oil come floating up on the beaches and wetlands where you live – which is exactly the experience the people of the Gulf are coming up against these days, not even five years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita turned the Coast inside out.

Already, residents of the area are gathering together to organize a local response. Late last week, The American Prospect published an excellent Q & A with Sharon Hanshaw, Executive Director of former Ms. Foundation grantee Coastal Women for Change, who shares her first person account of the shape this early organizing is taking, and the kind of challenges residents are facing as the oil creeps further and further inland. Hanshaw reports,
…It's a very panicky situation because people are afraid. Hurricane season is about to start in two weeks. In these communities [fishing] is their livelihood. They ask, can I work? Can I take care of my family? Can I take my boat even though I don't have insurance?

BP is trying to answer them, but it's not enough. All the seafood's going to go; the restaurants are going to suffer. It's still out there. It's in the sea -- that means it's out there.
It’s out there indeed – and despite the fact that President Obama has called for a moratorium on drilling in the area, The New York Times is now reporting that federal regulators have granted “at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded.” In other words, yes, it’s out there, and there’s no reason to think another disaster might not be waiting right around the corner.

In the aftermath of the hurricanes in 2005, the Ms. Foundation made a commitment to build the strength and power of social justice organizations and coalitions throughout the Southern region – first through our Katrina Women’s Response Fund and now through our larger Southern Focus. Now, in the wake of this newest crisis, our grantees are standing at the front lines, evaluating and organizing in response to this environmental disaster. For another look at how the oil spill is affecting the Gulf Coast – and who bears responsibility for the aftermath – watch Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Ms. Foundation grantee Green for All, in her recent appearance on MSNBC. And check out the website of Ms. Foundation grantee The Bucket Brigade, whose members are also hard at work, surveying the damage on the ground.

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